Much of the credit is due to the Vikings' defense. The unit faced its toughest task of the young campaign: take down the reigning NFC champion Panthers by ending their 14-game home winning streak. They needed to look only two weeks earlier -- to Denver's 21-20 win over Carolina -- to see how it could be done.
So how did they do it? It wasn't a tale of blinding speed that allowed the Vikings to get to Newton eight times, but was instead rooted in how much head coach Mike Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards trust their front four. The faith looks to be unshaken, as Minnesota went with a nickel package to defend the pass (four defensive linemen, two linebackers, five defensive backs) on an astounding 54 of 72 defensive snaps (75 percent), according to Next Gen Stats.
Minnesota tossed varied fronts at Carolina, utilizing three different defensive ends (Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter) in offset wide nine looks that gave Panthers tackles Mike Remmers and Michael Oher fits all afternoon. Below, Griffen is in the wide nine, lined up before his sack on Newton on a possession that produced two Minnesota sacks (the other on the part of Anthony Barr).
At one point in the fourth, with the Vikings owning a 12-point lead, both ends spread out to the wide nine and pinned their ears back with no need to respect contain responsbilities.
The alignment provided additional space to allow Robison and Griffen to enter full-speed rushes before engaging the tackles. On Griffen's sack early in the fourth, he gave himself 4.36 yards of free space between he and Oher before the ball was even snapped, hitting a top speed of 11.72 mph, as compared to Oher's pass-drop speed of 8.37 mph. Griffen covered 16.4 yards, dropped Newton for a loss of 10 and was the second-fastest member of the front seven on the play, trailing only linebacker Chad Greenway, sprinting to the flats in coverage.
The Vikings also showed the threat of multi-gap blitzes before multiple plays, walking a variety of defenders up to the line of scrimmage before either dropping or blitzing. The most startling statistic: Minnesota blitzed on just 36.4 percent of plays (all out of a 4-2-5 Nickel package), nowhere near the top-five blitzing teams of Week 3 (Detroit led at 57.7 percent). Those five units combined for seven sacks. Minnesota finished with eight.
Other points of note from Next Gen Stats in Week 3:
- Minnesota again has one of the week's fastest players. In Week 3 it was return man Marcus Sherels, hitting 21.17 mph to lead all ball carriers on touchdown-scoring plays.